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Chester County Press

Once a camper, now a flight instructor

07/20/2021 04:15PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

During the summer of 2016, at the end of an extremely hot afternoon, flight instructor Jimmy Reagan sat in the cockpit of his plane at the New Garden Flying Field roasting in the heat.

He had spent the past several hours giving campers private flights and instruction at the annual Future Aviators Camp, and just when he thought he had taken his last flight of the day, camp director Court Dunn came up to him on the runway and said, “I’ve got one more student for you.”

That student was 13-year-old Thomas McAdoo of Wilmington.

“I see this kid walking toward me with a Go-Pro on his head and a camera around his neck,” Reagan said. “He extends his hand and introduces himself to me, and as soon as he climbs aboard, he begins placing cameras all over the plane.

“The best part of that flight was when we took off, Thomas let out this laugh and said, ‘This is awesome!” It was such a fulfilling moment as flight instructor to be with a youngster who was just elated to be flying in an aircraft.”

When Reagan asked McAdoo if he would be interested in taking over the steerage of the plane during the flight, McAdoo immediately did – making steep turns and maneuvers with the self-assured ease of a veteran pilot. As the plane began making its approach back to the Flying Field, Reagan said what he always says to young campers, only this time, he really meant it.

“I told Thomas that he really needed to take flight lessons,” Reagan said.

McAdoo took Reagan’s advice, and over the next five years – mostly under Reagan’s tutelage – he earned his private pilot’s license, achieved his instrument rating and then a commercial pilot’s certificate.

This past June, McAdoo received his license to become a certified flight instructor (CFI) at the age of 18.

Obtaining a CFI license – which takes as many as 300 hours of training and instruction -- allows the pilot to go from learning how to fly to learning how to teach.

“When Thomas and I would be doing his CFI training, I would play the part of the student and he would stand near a white board,” said Reagan, who served as McAdoo’s primary flight instructor and is also a corporate pilot. “There, Thomas would teach me the principles of flight, how the aircraft operates and everything from the nuts and bolts of how an aircraft is made to regulations, to make sure that he could someday teach a complete novice student how to fly and operate a plane safely.”

McAdoo’s ascension from camper to pilot is not unlike the journeys of several youngsters who attend the Future Aviators Camp. Dunn, the director Flying Field’s New Garden Flight Connection, said that since its beginning, the camp has given over 1,300 introductory flight lessons, and for some campers, it signals the start of the fulfillment of what he calls “their destinies and dreams.”

“A highlight for me is when I see our former campers go on to fly F-16s, becoming corporate pilots and moving on with their aviation careers, and then come back and give our campers fight instructions,” Dunn said. “I have known Thomas since he was a young camper, and now to see him come back and instructing for us and training other campers is a great feeling.” 

McAdoo – who attended his fist Future Aviators Camp when he was 11 and later became a camp counselor -- recently graduated from the Delaware Military Academy and will study chemical engineering at the University of Delaware in the fall. In addition to his college studies, he plans to serve as a part-time instructor for the Flying Field’s New Garden Flight Connection, with an eventual goal of a career in the military or as a corporate pilot.

“My love of flight began here, so it’s been great to come back and being able to share it with others is just an incredible experience,” McAdoo said.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].